Military forces live and die by their weapons, but those aren’t the only tools that matter in a battle. There are all sorts of gadgets and gizmos that can make troops safer and more lethal. Here are 7 of the best:
1. Backpack that can listen to enemy communications
The Wolfhound is an electronic warfare device that allows troops to both locate where radio operators are at and listen in on enemy communications. Operators who can speak the enemy’s language carry the backpacks on patrols and interpret what is said for ground commanders. If no soldiers who can speak the local language are available, the system can still record signals so that they can be analyzed later.
2. Virtual reality headsets
The Norwegian Army currently has tanks equipped with four spherical cameras an Occulus Rift headset that allows tankers to “see” the battlefield through the tank’s armor like it isn’t there. The Norwegian Army still wants to improve the system though, hoping to make it more rugged and responsive. While other apparatuses like the F-35 helmet have given this capability to some U.S. forces, the Occulus Rift is relatively free at only $600 compared to the F-35 helmet’s $600,000 price tag.
Breaching an enemy door can be one of the most dangerous parts of a clearing operation, but the Simon Grenade-Rifle-Entry-Munition makes it safer and easier. Riflemen fit the GREM on the end of their barrel and fire a round. The round sets off the GREM which launches 50-100 feet to explode just outside the door. The blast shatters the door and leaves an opening for troops to assault through.
5. Tablet and app for close-air support
DARPA’s Persistent Close Air Support program was designed to allow troops to quickly call in close air support missions and get rounds or bombs on target within six minutes. The final program uses an off-the-shelf Android tablet with special software installed. Ground troops enter the requested mission into the tablet app and it is beamed to a tablet in an aircraft. The pilot receives all the information and conducts the mission accordingly.
Gunnery Sgt. Carlos Hathcock was the kind of Marine that would inspire generations of warfighters. He engaged in sniper duels and came out on top every time. He hunted Viet Cong and North Vietnamese officers through the jungles and grasses of Vietnam. And a new animation from The Infographics Show tells his story as a cartoon.
Most Hard Core American Sniper – The White Feather
Hathcock was an Arkansas native who grew up hunting in order to help feed his poor family. He aspired to military service, and specifically the Marine Corps, and enlisted soon after he turned 17. He was soon competing in marksmanship competitions with the Marine Corps and won some prestigious competitions including the Wimbledon Cup.
From a base in Vietnam, he achieved the longest sniper shot up to that point in history, and he did it with a .50-cal. machine gun in single-shot mode. He waged an extended sniper duel against the “The Apache,” a female Viet Cong platoon leader who tortured Marines, eventually dropping her from 700 yards when she got lazy and peed in the open.
He hit her with his first shot even though he had been switching rifles when he spotted her. After the first shot dropped her, he scored a second hit, just to be certain.
In another engagement, Hathcock and a spotter saw a green platoon of North Vietnamese Army troops. Hathcock hit the lead officer, and his spotter dropped the officer at the back. There was a third leader who tried to escape across a rice paddy, and so the Americans dropped him too. In order to protect their position from discovery, the sniper team stopped firing.
Instead, Hathcock and his partner called artillery, moved positions, and wiped out the enemy force.
He killed an enemy officer after four days of crawling to the target. (Hathcock believed it was an enemy general, though the NVA never acknowledged losing a general at the time and place that Hathcock scored his kill.)
He hunted down an enemy sniper sent to kill him, shooting his foe through the scope just moments before the Vietnamese sniper would’ve hit him.
So, yeah, there were lots of reasons that he was a legend. Check out the cartoon at top to learn more.
A U.S. Air Force B-52H Stratofortress crew from the 20th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron, stationed at Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, and deployed to Andersen Air Force Base in Guam are being hailed as heroes. The B-52H located the lost crew of an open ocean Polynesian-style canoe after they were missing at sea for six days.
The traditional Pacific Island-style canoe carrying six paddlers had become lost after sailing from nearby Piagailoe Atoll on June 19, 2018. The journey from the atoll to Guam was only supposed to take one day — meaning the paddlers, who had minimal supplies had been missing at sea for nearly a week.
Following the location of the canoers from the USAF B-52H, the six-member crew of the ocean-going canoe rendezvoused with a merchant vessel in the area that was directed to their location to effect rescue. The merchant vessel provided the canoers with water, food and navigational assistance so they could safely return to land.
The eight-engine, long range B-52H bomber joined the search when the crew from Barksdale Air Force Base, La., was on a routine flight during a deployment to Guam. The heavy bomber crew responded to a call from the Coast Guard for assistance in the search on June 25, 2018.
Crew members flying a B-52H Stratofortress assigned to the 20th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron, stationed at Barksdale Air Force Base, La., and deployed to Andersen AFB, Guam, successfully located six passengers who had been missing for six days and relayed their location to the U.S. Coast Guard.
“This was a unique situation for us,” Capt. Sean Simpson, one of the bomber’s crew, said in an Air Force statement. “It’s not every day the B-52 gets called for a search and rescue.”
Initially the crew of the B-52H was unfamiliar with the type of vessel they were searching for. Coast Guard personal compared the small, difficult to spot indigenous canoe with the boat from the Disney cartoon “Moana”. Capt. Simpson told media, “We asked for more details about the vessel and the dispatcher told us, ‘It’s just like the boat from [the Disney film] ‘Moana.'”
The B-52H crew were able to locate the canoe and its crew at sea only three hours after being called into the search and rescue operation.
“We spotted this vessel from about 19,000 feet,” 1st Lt. Jordan Allen told Air Force media in the statement. “It’s really a small miracle that we were able to see it, because there was quite a bit of clouds.”
The lost canoe was located by the crew from one of the B-52H after it was compared to a similar one that appeared in a Disney cartoon.
“Search and rescue isn’t something people typically think of when they talk about the B-52, but our training and adaptability really paid off,” Lt. Col. Jarred Prier, the bomb squadron’s director of operations, said in the statement. “Being a part of this successful search and rescue operation speaks to the diversity of our skill set and shows our importance here in the Pacific.”
While the 63-year old Boeing B-52 Stratofortress, first flown in 1952 and accepted into the Air Force in 1955, is oddly well suited for the maritime search and rescue role even though it was introduced as a global reach strategic nuclear bomber. The aircraft has an extremely long combat radius of 4,480 miles, meaning it can search out in a straight line 4,480 miles and return the same distance without refueling. Given midair refueling availability, the B-52’s endurance is limited mostly by its crew’s physical endurance.
In January 1957 three USAF B-52s set an endurance record by becoming the first jet aircraft to circle the earth on a non-stop flight. The early version B-52Bs flew continuously for 45 hours and 19 minutes. In total the planes flew 24,345 miles without landing.
This article originally appeared on The Aviationist. Follow @theaviationist on Twitter.
“Oh, man … It’s amazing,” an A-10 Warthog pilot, who preferred to be called “McGraw,” told Business Insider when asked what it’s like to fly the aircraft.
It’s “incredibly easy to fly, outstanding performance,” McGraw said on the phone from Afghanistan, adding that it’s very reliable, which he partially credited to the maintenance teams.
“If you’re employing bombs, bullets, rockets, or missiles, obviously that’s rewarding because you know you’re impacting the battlefield to help save Coalition forces,” McGraw said. “But even if you’re just overhead and nothing’s going on on the ground, and you know that the ground forces are sleeping well because they simply know the A-10s are overtop, that’s a very rewarding and self-fulfilling mission.”
“Plus it’s just cool to fly A-10s,” McGraw added.
When asked what it’s like to shoot the 30mm gun, McGraw said, “I wish I had better terms for it — but it’s amazing.”
(DoD photo by Tech. Sgt. Michael R. Holzworth)
“To just feel the airplane shake and to know that you can employ a gun from an airplane diving at the ground [at] 400-plus mph [and at] a 45 degree dive angle, and [that] I can confidently, on every single pass, put 30mm exactly on target … it’s very rewarding,” McGraw said.
McGraw, who has completed five tours in Afghanistan, said he’s flown about 300 combat missions in the wartorn country, deploying his weapons about 25% of the time.
“That gun is incredibly accurate, and it obviously delivers fearsome effects and devastating effects … so when I pull that trigger, I know those bullets are going where I want them [to],” he said.
“The whole heads-up display shakes,” McGraw said. “You’re engulfed in the gun exhaust … it’s a pretty awesome feeling.”
The US sent a squadron of 12 A-10s back to Afghanistan in January 2018, where its quietly ramping up the longest-running war in US history.
With wearable technology, such as Google Glass or Recon Jet, shooters can stand behind a corner and still aim at a target. Not only does the sight stream from the rifle to wearable device, it also streams to mobile phones, tablets, and computers to anyone in the world over the Internet. This makes it easier to share your kills to Facebook rather than tasking your spotter to record video. Just sayin’.
Of course, while TrackingPoint makes real-life shooting seem easier than video game sniping, one should never take skills for granted. After all, it is technology, and technology breaks.
Here’s TrackingPoint’s streaming technology in action:
Developed by some of the same engineers who designed the AR-10 and AR-15 family of rifles, the Stoner 63 was one of the world’s first modular, adaptable assault rifles used by the U.S. military.
It saw only limited fielding, but was popular among Navy SEALs during the Vietnam war. The Stoner could be configured as a rifle, carbine and light machine gun, firing from a traditional M16-style box magazine or from a belt.
The Stoner is surely one of the coolest looking rifles of the conflict, and while beloved by frogmen for years, it was found by some to be too complex and maintenance intensive for general battlefield use.
The Stoner X-LMG. (Photo link from The Firearm Blog)
Dubbed the Stoner X-LMG, the new machine gun fires a 5.56mm round from an open bolt with a piston operating system. Knights says the X-LMG uses a unique configuration that eliminates the buffer, further mitigating recoil and making it easier to control.
The X-LMG has a Picatinny rail for optics, a M-LOK handguard and a collapsable stock that helps the new Stoner come in at a surprisingly light weight of just under 9 pounds.
“The Stoner X-LMG … represents a 2kg weight saving over legacy models (including FN Herstal’s Mimimi LMG) providing operators with a more streamlined solution suitable for close quarter battle and military operations in urban terrain as well as parachute insertion,” according to one defense industry analysis.
Reports suggest the new Stoner is gaining interest among foreign special operations teams, including Dutch and French commandos and paratroop regiments. Knights armament is already popular among U.S. special operators and is primarily known for its SR-25 and Mk-11 rifles for designated marksmen and snipers.
Here’s former Delta Force operator Larry Vickers giving a detailed look at the Knights Armament Stoner LMG — the slightly heavier version of the X-LMG.
If you ever wonder why the littoral combat ship is often seen as a disappointment, one really only has to look at what Denmark has done. This small European country has developed vessels that have much of the same multi-mission flexibility as the American-designed vessels, but with a whole lot more firepower.
Denmark’s Iver Huitfeldt-class guided missile frigates are some incredibly versatile ships. They have quite the firepower, according to the Sixteenth Edition of the Naval Institute Guide to Combat Fleets of the World: four eight-cell Mk 41 vertical launch systems and two 12-round Mk 56 vertical launch systems that give the ship 32 RIM-66C SM-2 Standard Missiles and 24 RIM-162 Evolved Sea Sparrow Missiles, a 76mm gun, up to 16 RGM-84 Harpoon anti-ship missiles, and two twin 324mm torpedo tubes.
Oh, and they can add a second 76mm gun or a 127mm gun.
But that is not all these ships can do. They are based on the Absalon-class support ships. The Absalon carried a five-inch gun, 16 RGM-84 Harpoon anti-ship missiles, and three 12-round Mk 56 vertical-launch systems for a total of 36 RIM-162 Evolved Sea Sparrow Missiles. The Absalon also can haul up to 1,700 tons of cargo, including tanks.
The Iver Huitfeldt doesn’t quite have that space. This got more engines to reach a higher top speed than the Absalon, but she still has space for some containers and plenty of extra berthing (officially for flag and staff, but anyone can use a bed). In short, she could carry a platoon of troops, and her helipad can operate a helicopter the size of the Merlin.
In other words, these are vessels that clearly outgun the littoral combat ships, albeit the latter ships can out-run them. You can see more on these modern and versatile ships below.
It’s impossible to predict whether you’ll be the victim of a cyberattack, but you can drastically reduce the odds of one in a few simple steps.
The vast majority of people whose accounts are hacked don’t take basic precautions to protect them, making them “low-hanging fruit,” according to Alex Heid, chief research and development officer at cybersecurity firm SecurityScorecard.
“If you’re not thinking about these things, you have a nice car and you’re leaving it unlocked in a bad neighborhood. And the internet is the worst neighborhood there is, in my opinion,” Heid told Business Insider.
Follow these expert-recommended steps to avoid the pitfalls that can expose your accounts and sensitive information to hackers.
(Photo by Ilya Pavlov)
1. Change your passwords frequently.
According to Heid, hackers accumulate millions of login credentials and passwords in online databases garnered from previous data breaches. Even with just one set of login credentials, hackers commonly try to log into other sites using the same email and password, assuming that users will have the same password across platforms. Using different passwords from site to site will thwart this strategy.
(Photo by Courtney Clayton)
2. Don’t use the same security questions across different sites.
Following the same principle, if one site you use is compromised in a data breach, hackers might gain access to the security question and answer you set up in order to reset your password. If you use the same question across sites, it’s incredibly easy for hackers to subsequently reset your password on every one of your accounts.
3. Use bogus information for security questions to throw hackers off.
Password-reset questions typically ask for personal information like your mother’s maiden name or the street you grew up on. Rather than filling this out truthfully, use false information or an inside joke that hackers wouldn’t be able to guess. This tactic may seem counterintuitive, but can be effective, according to Heid.
“I always recommend using a password manager solution like Keypass or something like that to handle all the different passwords,” Heid said.
Password managers can generate long, difficult-to-guess passwords and automatically save them across websites, making it easy to keep your passwords diverse and hard to crack.
5. Don’t leave a public trail of personal information via social media.
Be mindful of information that hackers could glean from your public social media accounts — especially if you’re using that information for a password reset question.
“Pets’ names, kids birthdays, spots you went to for your honeymoon, all of those are common password reset answers that can be obtained from social media. Even stuff like the street you grew up on, that can be found in public records,” Heid said.
The U.S. Army plans to build prototypes in the next several years of a new lightweight Mobile Protected Firepower armored vehicle expected to change land war by outmatching Russian equivalents and bringing a new dimension to advancing infantry as it maneuvers toward enemy attack.
Long-range precision fire, coordinated air-ground assault, mechanized force-on-force armored vehicle attacks, and drone threats are all changing so quickly that maneuvering U.S. Army infantry now needs improved firepower to advance on major adversaries in war, Army leaders explain
“Mobile Protected Firepower helps you because you can get offroad. Mobility can help with lethality and protection because you can hit the adversary before they can disrupt your ability to move,” Rickey Smith, Deputy Chief of Staff, G-9, TRADOC, told Warrior Maven in an interview.
Smith did not elaborate on any precise weight but did stress that the effort intends to find the optimal blend of lethality, mobility, and survivability. Senior Army leaders, however, do say that the new MPF will be more survivable and superior than its Russian equivalent.
The Russian 2S25 Sprut-SD air-transportable light tank, according to Russian news reports, weighs roughly 20 tons and fires a 125mm smoothbore gun. It is designed to attack tanks and support amphibious, air or ground operations. The vehicle has been in service since 2005.
“It (U.S. Army MPF) is a light vehicle but not at the expense of the protection that the Russians accept. The level of protection on the vehicle they (the Russians) airdrop is not even close to what we are talking about,” Maj. Gen. David Bassett, former Program Executive Officer, Ground Combat Systems, said last Fall at the Association of the United States Army annual symposium.
In light of these kinds of near-peer adversaries with longer-range sensors, more accurate precision fires and air support for mechanized ground assault, the Army is acutely aware that its maneuvering infantry stands in need of armored, mobile firepower.
Current Abrams tanks, while armed with 120mm cannons and fortified by heavy armor, are challenged to support infantry in some scenarios due to weight and mobility constraints.
Accordingly, Smith explained that Infantry Brigade Combat Teams (IBCTs), expected to operate in a more expansive battlespace, will require deployable, fast-moving close-to-contact direct fire support. This fast-changing calculus, based on knowledge of emerging threats and enemy weapons, informs an Army need to close the threat gap by engineering the MPF vehicle.
While referred to by some as a “light tank,” Army officials specify that plans for the new platform seek to engineer a mobile combat platform able to deploy quickly. The MPF represents an Army push toward more expeditionary warfare and rapid deployability. Therefore, it is no surprise that two MPFs are being built to fit on an Air Force C-17 aircraft.
Rapid deployability is of particular significance in areas such as Europe, where Russian forces, for instance, might be in closer proximity to U.S. or NATO forces.
Tactically speaking, given that IBCTs are likely to face drones armed with precision weapons, armored vehicle columns advancing with long-range targeting technology and artillery, infantry on-the-move needs to have firepower and sensors sufficient to outmatch an advanced enemy.
All of these factors are indicative of how concepts of Combined Arms Maneuver are evolving to account for how different land war is expected to be moving forward. This reality underscores the reason infantry needs tank-like firepower to cross bridges, travel off-road and keep pace with advancing forces.
Designs, specs, and requirements for the emerging vehicle are now being evaluated by Army weapons developers currently analyzing industry submissions in response to a recent Request for Proposal.
The service expects to award two Engineering Manufacturing and Development (EMD) deals by 2019 as part of an initial step to building prototypes from multiple vendors, service officials said. Army statement said initial prototypes are expected within 14 months of a contract award.
While requirements and particular material solutions are expected to adjust as the programs move forward, there are some initial sketches of the capabilities the Army seeks for the vehicle.
According to a report from Globalsecurity.org, “the main gun has to be stabilized for on-the-move firing, while the optics and fire control system should support operations at all weather conditions including night operations.”
BAE Systems, General Dynamics Land Systems, and SAIC (partnered with ST Kinetics and CMI) are among the industry competitors seeking to build the new MPF. It is by no means surprising that, given the ongoing competition, industry competitors are reluctant to discuss details of their various offerings.
For the Army, the effort involves what could be described as a dual-pronged acquisition strategy in that it seeks to leverage currently available or fast emerging technology while engineered the vehicle with an architecture such that it can integrate new weapons and systems as they emerge over time.
An estimation of technologies likely to figure prominently in the MPF developmental process leads towards the use of lightweight armor composites, active protection systems, and a new generation of higher-resolution targeting sensors. Smith explained how this initiative is already gaining considerable traction.
This includes the rapid incorporation of greater computer automation and AI, designed to enable one sensor to perform the functions of many sensors in real-time. For instance, it’s by no means beyond the imagination to envision high-resolution forward-looking infrared (FLIR) sensors, electromagnetic weapons, and EO-IR cameras operating through a single sensor.
“The science is how do I fuse them together? How do I take multiple optical, infrared, and electromagnetic sensors and use them all at once in real-time ” Smith said.
“If you are out in the desert in an operational setting, infrared alone may be constrained heat so you need all types of sensors together and machines can help us sift through information,” added Smith.
In fact, the Army’s Communications Electronics Research, Development, and Engineering Center (CERDEC) is already building prototype sensors — with this in mind. In particular, this early work is part of a longer-range effort to inform the Army’s emerging Next-Generation Combat Vehicle (NGCV). The NGCV, expected to become an entire fleet of armored vehicles, is now
being explored as something to emerge in the late 2020s or early 2030s.
One of the key technical challenges when it comes to engineering a mobile, yet lethal, weapon is to build a cannon both powerful and lightweight enough to meet speed, lethality and deployability requirements.
U.S. Army’s Combat Vehicle Modernization Strategy specifically cites the need to bring large caliber cannon technology to lightweight vehicles. Among other things, the strategy cites a lightweight 120mm gun called the XM360 — built for the now-cancelled Future Combat Systems Mounted Combat System. While the weapon is now being thought of as something for NGCV or a future tank variant, its technology bears great relevance to the MPF effort – which seeks to maximize lightweight, mobile firepower.
Special new technology was needed for the XM360 in order to allow a lighter-weight cannon and muzzle to accommodate the blast from a powerful 120mm tank round.
Elements of the XM360 include a combined thermal and environmental shroud, blast deflector, a composite-built overwrapped gun, tube-modular gun-mount, independent recoil brakes, gas-charged recuperators, and a multi-slug slide block breech with an electric actuator, Army MCS developmental documents describe.
For lighter weight vehicles, recoil limitations are overcome by incorporating the larger caliber rarefaction wave gun technology while providing guided, stabilized LOS, course-corrected LOS, and beyond LOS accuracy.
An article in nextBIGFuture cites progress with a technology referred to as rarefaction wave gun technology, or RAVEN. explaining it can involve “combining composite and ceramic technologies with castings of any alloy – for dramatic weight reduction.” The idea is, in part, to develop and demonstrate hybrid component concepts that combine aluminum castings with both polymer matrix composites and ceramics, the report says.
We’ve all seen the cool James Bond clip where Q hands over a Walther PPK/S that can only be activated by 007’s palm print .
If a bad guy tries to pick it up and shoot the superspy, no joy.
For years the idea of a so-called “smart” gun like Bond’s has been largely out of reach for anyone but the covert operators of fiction, but that hasn’t stopped the government from trying to make one for real life. And the feds just took the first step in what could eventually be a handgun fielded to law enforcement and the military that only shoots for an authorized user.
As part of a series of executive actions on gun control released in January, President Barack Obama ordered the Department of Justice to look into what a smart gun should look like for military troops and federal agents. His intention was to deploy government resources to push the technology beyond what the civilian market has yielded in hopes of making smart gun technology available for most handguns.
“As the single largest purchaser of firearms in the country, the Federal Government has a unique opportunity to advance this research and ensure that smart gun technology becomes a reality,” the White House said. “In connection with these efforts, the departments will consult with other agencies that acquire firearms and take appropriate steps to consider whether including such technology in specifications for acquisition of firearms would be consistent with operational needs.”
The Armatix iP1 is the first so-called “smart gun” available for consumers. It’s chambered in 22 LR and requires a special watch for the shooter to active the gun.
In July, researchers with the National Institute of Justice released its long-awaited specifications for what a smart handgun should be able to do and how its safety features should work. The requirements represent a high technological bar for military and law enforcement smart gun use, including overrides if the system is jammed, near instant activation and a 10,000 rounds before failure limit.
The Justice Department described “the potential benefits of advanced gun safety technology, but noted that additional work was required before this technology is ready for widespread adoption by law enforcement agencies,” the NIJ report said. “In particular, the report stressed the importance of integrating this technology into a firearm’s design without compromising the reliability durability, and accuracy that officers expect from their service weapons.”
The NIJ specs essentially call for a polymer-framed, striker fired 9mm or .40 SW handgun without any external safety. Basically, the specs point to a Glock 19 or similar modern handgun when it comes to ergonomics, size, and function.
Researchers said the smart gun should able to be programmed to work only for authorized users, could be activated with a wearable device such as a ring or bracelet, and should be able to shoot even if the smart safety fails.
But the researchers went on to call for functions that go well beyond what current technology allows, including that “the security device shall not increase the time required by the operator to grasp, draw from a holster and fire the pistol as a pistol of the same design that is not equipped with the security device.”
That means zero lag time for the pistol to draw, authorize and fire in a split second.
The smart gun will also have to detect and alert the shooter if there is an attempt to jam the system and be able override the safety and fire despite the countermeasures. And the gun must be able to fire with both a bare or gloved hand, making it tough for technology using biometric sensors to read fingerprints.
Most importantly, the smart gun will have to endure 10,000 rounds with 2,000 draws between any failure. Engineers who build systems like small lights and lasers that attach to handguns have said one of the biggest technological challenges to building miniature electronics is making them tough enough to withstand the repeated recoil of a pistol.
Skeptics have long argued smart guns insert an unreliable technology into a system that’s build to work every time at a moment’s notice and that forcing anyone to use an electronic safety on a handgun could mean the difference between life and death.
“Generally speaking, additional complexity brings increased risk of malfunction and error,” the Justice Department has said. “The types of firearms most commonly used by law enforcement and the broader American public … are relatively straightforward mechanical devices, and manufacturers have faced significant engineering challenges as they seek to seamlessly integrate electronics into firearms’ operations.
But the White House has signaled its intention to push the technology to the field as soon as possible, and the latest NIJ report shows just how solid that technology has to be for troops and law enforcement to trust it with their lives.
As the United States shifts its posture away from ongoing counter-terror operations and back toward great power competition with nations like China, the U.S. is being forced to reassess it’s aircraft carrier force projection strategy. If U.S. carriers find themselves on the sideline for such a conflict, it may be worth revisiting the idea of a different kind of aircraft carrier: the flying kind.
China’s arsenal of hypersonic anti-ship missiles have created an area denial bubble that would prevent American carriers from sailing close enough to Chinese shores to launch sorties, effectively neutering America’s ability to conduct offensive operations against the Chinese mainland. Without the ability to leverage the U.S. Navy’s attack aircraft, combat operations in the Pacific would be extremely difficult. It is, however, possible (though potentially impractical) to develop and deploy flying aircraft carriers for such a conflict–the United States has even experimented with the concept a number of times in the past, and is continuing to pursue the idea today.
Gremlins air vehicle during a flight test at Dugway Proving Ground, Utah, November 2019 (DARPA)
DARPA’s Gremlins Program
The most recent iteration of a flying aircraft carrier comes from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, and has seen testing successes as recently as January of this year.
In January, DARPA successfully launched a Dynetics’ X-61A Gremlin UAV from the bay of a Lockheed Martin C-130A cargo aircraft. The program is aiming to demonstrate the efficacy of low-cost combat-capable drones that can be both deployed and recovered from cargo planes. DARPA envisions using cargo planes like the C-130 to deploy these drones while still outside of enemy air defenses; allowing the drones to go on and engage targets before returning to the airspace around the “mother ship” to be recaptured and carried home for service or repairs.
The test showed that a drone could be deployed by the C-130, but the drone itself was ultimately destroyed when its parachute failed to open after the completion of an hour-and-a-half flight. A subsequent test that would include drone capture was slated for the spring of this year, but has likely been delayed to due to the outbreak of COVID-19.
Between the success of this test and other drone wingman programs like Skyborg, the concept of a flying aircraft carrier has seen a resurgence in recent years, and may potentially finally become a common facet of America’s air power.
The plan to turn a Boeing 747 into a flying aircraft carrier
The Boeing 747 has already secured its place in the pantheon of great aircraft, from its immense success as a passenger plane to its varied governmental uses like being a taxi for the Space Shuttle or as a cargo aircraft. The 747 has proven itself to be an extremely capable aircraft for a wide variety of applications, so it seemed logical when, in the 1970s, the U.S. Air Force began experimenting with the idea of converting one of these large aircraft into a flying aircraft carrier full of “parasite” fighters that could be deployed, and even recovered, in mid-air.
Boeing AAC design sketch
Initial plans called for using the massive cargo aircraft Lockeed C-5 Galaxy, but as Boeing pointed out at the time, the 747 actually offered superior range and endurance when flying with a full payload. According to Boeing’s proposal, the 747 could be properly equipped to carry as much as 883,000 pounds.
Sketch of a micro fighter inside a 747 fuselage.
The idea behind the Boeing 747 AAC (Airborne Aircraft Carrier) was simple in theory, but incredibly complex in practice. Boeing would specially design and build fighter aircraft that were small enough to be housed within the 747, along with an apparatus that would allow the large plane to carry the fighters a long distance, drop them where they were needed to fight, and then recover them once again.
This graphic from Boeing’s proposal shows different potential flying aircraft carrier platforms and their respective ranges. (Boeing)
Boeing’s 60-page proposal discusses the ways such a program could be executed, but lagging questions remained regarding the fuel range of a 747 carrying such a heavy payload and about how the fighters would fare in a combat environment. Previous flying aircraft carrier concepts showed that the immense turbulence from large aircraft (and their jet engines) made it extremely difficult to manage the fighters they would drop, especially as they attempted to return to the aircraft after a mission.
Potential “micro-fighter” design (Boeing)
Further concerns revolved around how well these miniature “parasite” fighters would fare against the top-of-the-line Soviet fighters they would conceivable be squaring off with.
Ultimately, the proposal never made it off the page — but it did establish one important point for further discussion on this topic. According to the report, Boeing found the concept of a flying aircraft carrier to be “technically feasible” using early 1970’s technology. Technically feasible, it’s important to note, however, is not the same as financially feasible.
The insane Lockheed CL-1201: A massive, nuclear-powered flying aircraft carrier
The Skunkworks at Lockheed Martin have been responsible for some of the most incredible aircraft ever to take flight, from the high-flying U-2 Spy Plane to the fastest military jet ever, the SR-71. But even those incredible aircraft seem downright plain in comparison to Lockheed’s proposal to build an absolutely massive, nuclear powered, flying aircraft carrier–the CL-1201.
The proposal called for an aircraft that weighed 5,265 tons. In order to get that much weight aloft, the design included a 1,120 foot wingspan, with a fuselage that would measure 560 feet (or about two and a half times that of a 747). It would have been 153 feet high, making it stand as tall as a 14-story building. According to Lockheed, they could put this massive bird in the sky using just four huge turbofan engines which would be powered by regular jet fuel under 16,000 feet, where it would then switch to nuclear power courtesy of its on-board reactor. The flying aircraft carrier could then stay aloft without refueling for as long as 41 days, even while maintaining a high subsonic cruising speed of Mach 0.8 at around 30,000 feet.
The giant aircraft would carry a crew of 845 and would be able to deploy 22 multirole fighters from docking pylons installed on the wings. It also would maintain a small internal hangar bay for repairs and aircraft service while flying. Unsurprisingly, this design didn’t make it past the proposal stage, but the concept itself stands as a historical anomaly that continues to inspire renewed attention to this day.
Convair GRB-36F in flight with Republic YRF-84F (S/N 49-2430). (U.S. Air Force photo)
The B-36 Peacemaker
This massive bomber weighed in at an astonishing 410,000 pounds when fully loaded with fuel and ordnance (thanks to its large fuel reserves and 86,000 weapon capacity). Development of the B-36 began in 1941, thanks to a call for an aircraft that was capable of taking off from the U.S., bombing Berlin with conventional or atomic ordnance, and returning without having to refuel. By the time the B-36 made it into the air, however, World War II had already been over for more than a year.
The B-36 had a massive wingspan. At 230 feet, the wings of the Peacemaker dwarf even the B-52’s 185-foot wingspan. In its day, it was one of the largest aircraft ever to take to the sky. Despite it’s incredible capabilities, the B-36 never once flew an operational mission, but the massive size and range of the platform prompted the Air Force to consider its use as a flying aircraft carrier, using Republic YRF-84F Ficon “parasitic” fighters as the bomber’s payload.
The idea was similar to that of the later proposal from Boeing, carrying the fighters internally to extend their operational range and then deploying them via a lowering boom, where they could serve as protection for the bomber, reconnaissance assets, or even execute offensive operations of their own before returning to the B-36 for recovery.
View of the YRF-84F from inside the B-36 — the pilot could enter and exit the cockpit from within the bomber. (U.S. Air Force photo)
The U.S. Air Force ultimately did away with the concept thanks to the advent of mid-air refueling, which dramatically increased the operational range of all varieties of aircraft and made a flying aircraft carrier concept a less cost effective solution.
Using rigid airships as flying aircraft carriers
Although we very rarely see rigid inflatable airships in service to national militaries today, things were much different in the early 20th century. Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin’s airships (dubbed “Zeppelins”) were proving themselves to be a useful military platform thanks to their fuel efficiency, range, and heavy payload capabilities. These massive airships were not only cost-effective, their gargantuan size also offered an added military benefit: their vast looming presence could be extremely intimidating to the enemy.
However, as you may have already guessed, it was that vast presence that also created the rigid airship’s massive weakness: it was susceptible to being shot down by even the simplest of enemy aircraft. England was the first nation to try to offset this weakness by building an apparatus that could carry and deploy three Sopwith Camel biplanes beneath the ship’s hull. They ultimately built four of these 23-class Vickers rigid airships, but all were decommissioned by the 1920s. The U. S. Navy’s Bureau of Aeronautics took notice of the concept, however, and set about construction on its own inflatable airships, with both the USS Akron (ZRS-4) and USS Macon (ZRS-5) serving as flying aircraft carriers.
The airships were built with an apparatus that could not only deploy F9C-2 Curtiss Sparrowhawk biplanes, they could also recover them once again mid-flight. The airships and aircraft fell under the Navy’s banner, and the intent was to use the attached bi-planes for both reconnaissance (ship spotting) and defense, but not necessarily for offensive operations.
USS Akron (ZRS-4) Launches a Consolidated N2Y-1 training plane (Bureau # A8604) during flight tests near Naval Air Station Lakehurst, New Jersey, 4 May 1932. (U.S. Navy)
The biplanes were stored in hangars on the airship that measured approximately 75′ long x 60′ wide x 16′ high — or big enough to service 5 biplanes internally.
Sparrowhawk scout/fighter aircraft on its exterior rigging (U.S. Navy)
After lackluster performance in a series of Naval exercises, the Akron would crash on April 4, 1933, killing all 76 people on board. Just weeks later, on April 21, its sister ship, the USS Macon, would take its first flight. Two years later, it too would crash, though only two of its 83 crew members would die.
The Army’s new “Vision” for future war calls for a fast-moving emphasis on long-range precision fire to include missiles, hypersonic weapons and extended-range artillery — to counter Russian threats on the European continent, service officials explain.
While discussing the Army Vision, an integral component of the service’s recently competed Modernization Strategy, Secretary of the Army Mark Esper cited long-range precision fire as a “number one modernization priority” for the Army.
Senior Army officials cite concerns that Russian weapons and troop build-ups present a particular threat to the US and NATO in Europe, given Russia’s aggressive force posture and arsenal of accurate short, medium and long-range ballistic missiles.
“The US-NATO military hospital in Landstuhl, Germany, for example, is in the range fan of Russian assets. That is how far things can shoot. You do not have sanctuary status in that area,” a senior Army official told Warrior Maven in an interview.
Russian SS-21 Scarab
The senior Army weapons developer said the service intends to engineer an integrated series of assets to address the priorities outlined by Esper; these include the now-in-development Long Range Precision Fires missile, Army hypersonic weapons programs and newly configured long-range artillery able to double the 30-km range of existing 155m rounds. The Army is now exploring a longer-range artillery weapon called “Extended Range Cannon,” using a longer cannon, ramjet propulsion technology and newer metals to pinpoint targets much farther away.
Army leaders have of course been tracking Russian threats in Europe for quite some time. The Russian use of combined arms, drones, precision fires, and electronic warfare in Ukraine has naturally received much attention at the Pentagon.
Also, the Russian violations of the INF Treaty, using medium-range ballistic missiles, continues to inform the US European force posture. Russia’s INF Treaty violation, in fact, was specifically cited in recent months by Defense Secretary James Mattis as part of the rationale informing the current Pentagon push for new low-yield nuclear weapons.
The Arms Control Association’s (ACA) “Worldwide Inventory of Ballistic Missiles” cites several currently operational short, medium and long-range Russian missiles which could factor into the threat equation outlined by US leaders. The Russian arsenal includes shorter range weapons such as the mobile OTR-21 missile launch system, designated by NATO as the SS-21 Scarab C, which is able to hit ranges out to 185km, according to ACA.
Russian medium-range theater ballistic missiles, such as the RS-26 Rubezh, have demonstrated an ability to hit targets at ranges up to 5,800km. Finally, many Russian long-range ICBMs, are cited to be able to destroy targets as far away as 11,000km – these weapons, the ACA specifies, include the RT-2PM2 Topol-M missile, called SS-27 by NATO.
It is not merely the range of these missiles which could, potentially, pose a threat to forward-positioned or stationary US and NATO assets in Europe — it is the advent of newer long-range sensors, guidance and targeting technology enabling a much higher level of precision and an ability to track moving targets. GPS technology, inertial navigation systems, long-range high-resolution sensors, and networked digital radar systems able to operate on a wide range of frequencies continue to quickly change the ability of forces to maneuver, operate and attack.
While discussing the Army Vision, Esper specified the importance of “out-ranging” an enemy during a recent event at the Brookings Institution.
“We think that for a number of reasons we need to make sure we have overmatch and indirect fires, not just for a ground campaign, but also, we need to have the ability to support our sister services,” Esper told Brooking’s Michael O’Hanlon, according to a transcript of the event.
The Army’s emerging Long-Range Precision Fires(LRPF), slated to be operational by 2027, draws upon next generation guidance technology and weapons construction to build a weapon able to destroy targets as far as 500km away.
LRPF is part of an effort to engineer a sleek, high-speed, first-of-its-kind long-range ground launched attack missile able to pinpoint and destroy enemy bunkers, helicopter staging areas, troop concentrations, air defenses and other fixed-location targets from as much as three times the range of existing weapons, service officials said.
Long-range surface-to-surface fires, many contend, could likely be of great significance against an adversary such as Russia – a country known to possess among most advanced air defenses in the world. Such a scenario might make it difficult for the US to quickly establish the kind of air supremacy needed to launch sufficient air attacks. As a result, it is conceivable that LRPF could provide strategically vital stand-off attack options for commanders moving to advance on enemy terrain.
Esper specifically referred to this kind of scenario when discussing “cross-domain” fires at the Brookings event; the Army Vision places a heavy premium on integrated high-end threats, potential attacks which will require a joint or inter-service combat ability, he said. In this respect, long range precision fires could potentially use reach and precision to destroy enemy air defenses, allowing Air Force assets a better attack window.
“This is why long-range precision fires is number one for the Army. So, if I need to, for example, suppress enemy air defenses using long-range artillery, I have the means to do that, reaching deep into the enemy’s rear. What that does, if I can suppress enemy air defenses, either the guns, missiles, radars…ect.. it helps clear the way for the Air Force to do what they do — and do well,” Esper said.
Army Secretary Mark Esper
(U.S. Army photo by David Vergun)
In addition, there may also be some instances where a long-range cruise missile — such as a submarine or ship-fired Tomahawk — may not be available; in this instance, LRPF could fill a potential tactical gap in attack plans.
Raytheon and Lockheed recently won a potential 6 million deal to develop the LRPF weapon through a technological maturation and risk reduction phase, Army and industry officials said.
Service weapons developers tell Warrior a “shoot-off” of several LRPF prototypes is currently planned for 2020 as a key step toward achieving operational status.
Esper also highlighted the potential “cross-domain” significance of how Army-Navy combat integration could be better enabled by long-range fires.
“If we’re at a coast line and we can help using long-range weapons … I’m talking about multi-hundred-mile range rockets, artillery, et cetera, to help suppress enemies and open up the door, if you will, so that the Navy can gain access to a certain theater,” Esper explained.
While Long-Range Precision Fires is specified as the number one priority, the Army Vision spells out a total of six key focus areas: Long-Range Precision Fires; Next-Generation Combat Vehicle; Future Vertical Life; Army Network; Air and Missile Defense; Soldier Lethality.
This article originally appeared on Warrior Maven. Follow @warriormaven1 on Twitter.
Some military vehicles are given names that accurately reflect what they do and how well they do it. Others, however, are not so fortunate — they’re given military monikers that simply don’t fit.
The following tools of war were either given names so lofty that it makes a mockery of their actual performance or a name so low-class that it’s a disgrace to the weapon.
At Midway, the Devastator got devastated by Mitsubishi A6M “Zeke” fighters.
Douglas TBD Devastator
This plane’s name would have you thinking it’s something that can deliver a huge amount of firepower, sufficient enough to destroy whatever ship lays in its path. Unfortunately, this was far from the reality of the Douglas TBD Devastator.
At the Battle of Midway, a total of 41 Devastators attacked the Japanese carriers. Torpedo Squadron Eight, based on the aircraft carrier USS Hornet (CV 8) and accounted for 15 of those Devastators — all of which were wiped out. In total, only six Devastators survived. ‘Devastated’ is a much more fitting title.
The KC-97 Stratofreighter was really an aerial refueling tanker, as seen in action with these A-7 Corsairs.
Boeing KC-97 Stratofreighter
This plane found quite a bit of success in its lifetime: 811 were built by the United States and it saw plenty of peacetime work. It was introduced in 1951 and stuck around until 1978 with the Air National Guard. So, what makes ‘Stratofreighter’ such a poor name choice?
This plane wasn’t a transport — it was a tanker. This plane refueled the bombers and fighters who took the fight to the enemy. Really, this plane should have been called the ‘Stratotanker’ (a name later used by the KC-135) because there’s no ‘freighter’ involved.
The only things mauled by the MIM-46 Mauler were the reputations of those who thought it was a good idea.
This missile was intended, as the name implies, to maul enemy planes that approached on close-air support missions. Well, as it turns out, the only mauling the missile did was in theory. In reality, it suffered from all sorts of problems, ranging from failing launch canisters to malfunctioning guidance systems.
Ultimately, the Army instead turned to the MIM-72 Chaparral and Navy went with the RIM-7 Sea Sparrow. The MIM-46 was test fired in 1961 and, by 1965, the Mauler mauled no more.
This was what the M247 Sergeant York was supposed to be. Reality was very different.
M247 Sergeant York
Sergeant Alvin York was known for his marksmanship, earning the Medal of Honor for heroic acts performed during World War I. The M247 Sergeant York, conversely, was anything but a marksman. When it came time to test this vehicle, which was equipped with a pair of 40mm cannon and the radar of the F-16, it couldn’t even hit a hovering drone. The radar simply couldn’t track anything.
Surely, Sergeant York rolled in his grave over sharing a name with this lemon.
What weapons do you think have unfortunate names? Let us know in the comments!